Kiev, November 14, 2018
By refusing to go to the Kiev Caves Lavra to meet with the hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church yesterday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko passed up on the chance to establish relations with the canonical Church, His Eminence Metropolitan Jonathan (Yeletskikh) of Tulchin and Bratslav said in an interview with First Cossack today.
As OrthoChristian reported yesterday, 83 of the 90 bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church were gathered at the Kiev Caves Lavra for a session of the Council of Bishops and were expecting to meet with Poroshenko there, as had been agreed upon between the head of state and His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine on November 9.
However, at the last minute, Poroshenko decided to go instead to the Ukrainian House conference center, where he had initially proposed holding the meeting.
Met. Onuphry and the bishops of the Church reason that Church discussions should be held on Church grounds, and not in secular venues controlled by the Presidential Administration. Moreover, the specific venue of the Ukrainian House smacks of an insult to the hierarchs of the Church, as it was built in 1982 in honor of the 60th anniversary of the USSR and was previously the Kiev branch of the Central Lenin Museum. It is still known by many Kiev residents as “the former house of Lenin,” reports the Ukrainian portal strana.ua.
Poroshenko and Met. Onuphry discussed the choice of venue for a second time when the President called the primate during the meeting of the Council of Bishops at the Lavra and wondered why they hadn’t come to meet with him at the Ukrainian House.
A bishop of the Church who spoke with strana.ua explained that it was a rather tense phone call, with Poroshenko becoming obviously angry while His Beatitude remained calm. The President shouted so loudly through the phone that several other bishops could hear the conversation.
In particular, it was heard how Poroshenko demanded that the bishops meet with him at the Ukrainian House, and in response to Met. Onuphry’s objection, the irritated President was heard yelling, “What canons, what canons?!”
However, the President’s visit could have helped to mitigate the negative effect of the Ukrainian authorities’ many discriminatory statements against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Met. Jonathan explained.
“So many slanderous words were said about us that this visit of the President could have mitigated the impression that we are the ‘tentacles of an aggressor state,’ which should be cut off, that the Russian Orthodox Church should be driven out of Ukraine (they don’t even want to call us the Ukrainian Orthodox Church),” explained Met. Jonathan.
Poroshenko declared just a few days ago that all representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, meaning the canonical Ukrainian Church, should leave Ukraine.
“In my opinion,” the hierarch continued, “President Poroshenko passed up a good chance to apologize and establish normal relations with the episcopacy. He has visited Bartholomew, and more than once, and here the Council of Bishops invited him, his own citizens of Ukraine.”
However, as the bishops declared yesterday, they remain ready to meet with Poroshenko as the situation in Ukraine is very serious and requires discussion.
For his part, His Eminence Metropolitan Luke of Zaporozhye and Melitopol said he believes that Poroshenko’s refusal to come to the agreed-upon meeting place shows his negative attitude towards the Church, and in blaming the Church for the state’s problems, the President’s administration makes itself equal to the persecutors of the Church.
Met. Luke also explains that of the 83 bishops gathered yesterday at the Kiev Caves Lavra, 82 voted to meet with the President, and 82 voted that the meeting should take place on Church grounds, as had already been agreed upon with Poroshenko.
“Does it seem, from a spiritual point of view, that the saints of the Kiev Caves do not allow someone to come to them who has raised his hand against the Mother Church? Or perhaps his conscience torments him and doesn’t allow him to look into the eyes of those whom he has publicly insulted, or he is afraid to hear the truth about himself?” Met. Luke reflected.
As Met. Luke also noted, the bishops are free to do as they please and were free to meet with Poroshenko at the Ukrainian House, and, as Ukrainian media is reporting today, three hierarchs of the Ukrainian Church did end up meeting with Poroshenko there, though this number did not include two of the bishops of the canonical Church who are known to support the push for an autocephalous Church, as they were present at the Council of Bishops’ session in the Lavra.
Although it was the President who changed his plans last minute, his administration immediately set to work blaming the Church, saying the bishops simply used the venue as an excuse to not meet with the President.
Moreover, as one member of the administration told BBC, they consider that this means the Church supports Russia over and against Ukraine: “It’s their choice. They thereby showed that they go not with Ukraine but with Russia,” the source said.
Perhaps this is the key to the President’s actions—a provocation against the Church, a deception that would give opportunity to “prove” that the Church is anti-Ukrainian, which would justify anti-Church laws being passed and irresponsible rhetoric calling for the faithful of the canonical Church to leave the country being voiced.
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